Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Oct 3, 2010
12:30 PMSmall Dishes
The Great Pumpkin
Big, round and flamboyantly orange, it’s hard not to like a pumpkin. It’s an iconic symbol of fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving. For a long time, I thought they were just great as Jack O’Lanterns or in a Norman Rockwell vision; just so long as they didn’t end up on my plate. Like many children, I loathed mushy foods and a pumpkin is after all nothing more than a big squash.
It’s actually a remarkable vegetable since the flesh, seeds (pepitas), leaves and flowers are all edible. Green pumpkin can be treated like zucchini, but it’s rarely done so in this country. Pumpkin is found on the table in almost every culture.
Perhaps if Harry Potter and his pumpkin juice had been around then, I’d have been more motivated to try it. Ultimately, pie won out—it’s difficult for me to resist pie even made from something I don’t normally like. The look and smell of it was so enticing; its status venerated. Granted, in most households it was a holiday essential but not in mine. My mother always made pecan pie at Thanksgiving and mincemeat pie at Christmas. But, pumpkin pie has become a Turkey Day tradition for me. Now an adult, I like mine flavored with a little bourbon (recipe follows).
After pie, probably the next best known pumpkin treat is bread, similar to zucchini or carrot bread. Pumpkin cake or bars, often topped with cream cheese frosting, are universally popular as well. In Boston I once had a maple-glazed pumpkin donut that in my memory has taken on mythic status. In England, I first encountered savory pumpkin soup, nicely kicked up with curry. It was there I also had kaddu ka halwa, a rich and creamy Indian dessert made from spiced and pureed pumpkin. In Mexico they do remarkable things with a tan or green variety called calabaza.
I’ve learned that pumpkin is a very versatile food and always on the lookout for new ways to enjoy it.
Pickings from Madison’s Pumpkin Patch
The Mermaid Café is a pleasantly quirky little coffee house and sandwich shop on the eastside. Their robust pumpkin muffins are full of flavor and pumpkin seeds and healthfully delicious.
On Lombardino’s current menu (it changes seasonally) is zuppa di zucca, a hearty butternut squash soup with pancetta and drizzled pumpkin seed oil. (See Vom Fass below.)
At The Continental Fitchburg Jenny Schiavo’s homemade pumpkin cheesecake with caramel sauce is usually on the menu and always smoothly sublime.
It’s not just for dessert any more: Here’s a different spin on pumpkin pie, but you’ll have to make it yourself—it’s easy but worth the effort! The recipe for a savory pumpkin pie flavored with bacon is on the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s website.
Come fall, pumpkin shakes and cones are anticipated favorites at Michael’s Frozen Custard. Another seasonal specialty is pumpkin pancakes at Marigold Kitchen. And probably the best way to celebrate the change in the season is pumpkin ale at Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company.
Vom Fass is a German company that specializes in gourmet oils and vinegars. They have six stores in the U.S.—the first was in Madison (3428 University Avenue). They sell Styrian pumpkin seed oil which has an extremely nutty taste. It’s excellent on pasta, combined with olive oil in salad dressing, and even as a topping for ice cream.
RP’s Fresh Pasta makes pumpkin-stuffed tortellini that are perfect served with butter sage sauce or freshly ground parmesan and toasted hazelnuts. You’ll find it in the refrigerated and/or freezer section of most local markets.
Holiday Pumpkin Pie
I try to make everything from scratch and I like the concept of starting with a fresh pumpkin. However, when I’ve done this more often than not the end result was disappointing and definitely not worth the extra effort. Canned pumpkin works just fine in a pie and fortunately this year there isn’t a shortage like in 2009.
1 prebaked 10-inch pie shell
¾ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon molasses
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
16-ounce can pumpkin
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 tablespoons bourbon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Gradually combine the brown sugar, sugar, flour, molasses and spices. Stir in the pumpkin. Combine the eggs, milk and bourbon and fold into the pumpkin mixture.
Carefully pour the filling into the prepared pie shell and set in the preheated 375-degree oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the center is just set. Cool on a rack.
Serve the pie at room temperature with whipped cream.
Serves 8 to 10.